Questions for a Lifetime

Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Hebert, Barbara,"Questions for a Lifetime" Quest 107:1, pg 10-11

By Barbara Hebert
National President

Barbara Hebert.One thing is certain: we will all die. Therefore the topic of death and the afterlife intimately impacts each and every one of us. Because of the cyclic nature of death and rebirth, some of the questions that arise for me and upon which I ponder frequently include: What am I supposed to be learning in this incarnation? Why was I born into a Theosophical family? How does my understanding of Theosophy impact spiritual development in this incarnation?

Being raised in a Theosophical family has many pros as well as some cons, as numerous individuals across the world who are multigenerational Theosophists can attest. Speaking from my own experience, I am grateful to my family for sharing Theosophical concepts with me, such as: life is inherent in all things; reincarnation exists; I am responsible for my own choices and actions; I am more than this physical body; and there are no differences at the core of existence between people or between religious traditions.

My grandmother taught my siblings, cousins, and me about Theosophical concepts from the beginning of our lives. For example, one summer when we spent a great deal of time visiting her, she put a note on her back door that read: “Don’t slam me. It hurts.” She explained to us that even the door had particles of life in it and was a living thing. She taught us to be gentle with leaves and flowers in her yard. To emphasize the importance of the Buddha’s blessing on the world during the Wesak festival, she had us put clean sheets on all of the beds, wear new nightgowns, and fall asleep with the intention of going to the festival on the astral level. The leaders of the Theosophical Society were heralded as eminent teachers. Her lessons were those of an elder student to much younger students. They were concrete and simple. It was the only way we would understand at that point in our lives.

As time went on and I continued my studies in Theosophy, I realized that the concepts my grandmother shared were not nearly as concrete and as simple as I had once assumed. My initial understanding of karma (if I’m mean to my sister in this life, then I’ll have a sister who is mean to me in my next life) changed dramatically over the years, as well it should have! When we grasp a concept and hold on to it without examining it, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to grow and learn. Only through continued and objective examination of our beliefs can we learn, grow, and deepen our understanding of the world—seen and unseen—around us.

It is certainly easy to accept our ideas as accurate and infallible. In fact, it can even feel somewhat comfortable. However, taking this action does not hold true to the basic precepts of the Theosophical tradition and may lead to stagnation. Self-examination, including examination of our beliefs, allows for growth and expansion of awareness—a goal toward which seekers on the Path strive.

Along these same lines, many individuals tend to accept current and former leaders (and even members) of the Theosophical Society as totally infallible and their teachings as totally accurate. From my perspective, doing so leads us toward inertia rather than toward a vibrantly spiritual activism. While many have idealized leaders and members of the Society, the human fallibility that is a part of all of us has been dismissed, discarded, or ignored. There seems to be some perception that paying attention to the human foibles of an individual might negate or discredit the teachings that this person has shared.

It is not the individual who matters: it is the material that rings true for each and every one of us. However, in many instances Theosophists and others have focused on the individual rather than on the material. This focus has, at times, raised certain individuals onto pedestals, while at other times it has been solely on the individual’s imperfections. Neither seems appropriate, as neither is a true representation of the individual.

For instance, H.P. Blavatsky, one of our cofounders, was the recipient of malicious accusations and hurtful claims of charlatanism for much of her life and on through the present day. HPB was a human being—a remarkable human being, no doubt, but still a human being with a strong personality. She was capable of making mistakes and did in fact make mistakes. She was, as we all are, an imperfect human being. However, her humanness does not negate the validity of the material she shared. In an essay entitled “Concerning HPB: Stray Thoughts on Theosophy,” her personal secretary G.R.S. Mead writes:

What we know is, that in spite of all that people have said against the extravagantly abused woman for upwards of a quarter of a century, the fundamentals of Theosophy stand firm, and this for the very simple reason that they are entirely independent of Madame Blavatsky. It is Theosophy in which we are interested, and this would remain an immovable rock of strength and comfort, an inexhaustible source of study, the most noble of all quests, and the most desirable of paths on which to set our feet (emphasis in the original).

In chapter 24 of the fourth series of Old Diary Leaves, H.S. Olcott, cofounder and first president of the Theosophical Society, writes about looking always to that highest aspect of ourselves for answers. He advises us to avoid bequeathing divine status on any person. Talking about HPB, he writes:

I do especially protest against and denounce a tendency which is growing among us to lay the foundations of a new idolatry. . . . I protest against the first giving way to the temptation to elevate either them [the Masters], their agents, or any other living or dead personage to the divine status, or their teachings to that of infallible doctrine. . . . I have been taught to lean upon myself alone, to look to my Higher Self as my best teacher, best guide, best example, and only savior. I was taught that no one could or ever would attain to the perfect knowledge save upon those lines.

He writes about HPB after her death:

If she had lived, she would have undoubtedly left her protest against her friends making a saint of her or a bible out of her magnificent though not infallible writings. . . . She did not discover nor invent Theosophy, nor was she the first or the ablest agent, scribe, or messenger of the Hidden Teachers of the Snow Mountains. . . . Nobody living was a more staunch and loyal friend of hers than I, nobody will cherish her memory more lovingly. . . . But I never worshipped her, never blinded my eyes to her faults, never dreamt that she was as perfect a channel for the transmission of occult teaching as some others in history had been, or as the Masters would have been glad to have found.

If we are to be true students of the Ancient Wisdom, we must examine its teachings thoroughly and objectively. We must look to that highest aspect of ourselves and ask, does this teaching feel authentic and valid to me at this time? We cannot look at any individual, whether leader, author, or even ourselves, as having the ultimate truth. Few, if any, living human beings—unless perhaps they are adepts—possess such truth. Through study and meditation, some individuals may discover small fragments of truth, but not more. It is imperative to objectively examine and question any belief we may hold, whether about an individual or about a concept. Self-awareness and self-observation provide the basis from which we can continue to grow and learn. Through this process, we begin to experience those tiny glimpses into what may be a portion of the ultimate truth.

Herein lie some answers to the questions with which this article began. For me at this point in time, these answers include the following: incarnating into various bodies provides the opportunity to learn and grow through continuous examination of self and beliefs; my best teacher is that highest aspect of my Self; and only a very small glimpse of the ultimate truth is available to us on this physical plane.



From the Editor’s Desk

Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley Richard,"From the Editor’s Desk" Quest 107:1, pg 12

Richard SmoleyYou hear it often: death is a part of life.

So it is. Warm life frolics, seemingly indestructible. At some point there comes a sense of apprehension, a chill in the air. The cold takes over; life grows timid and slows down. Everything withers, and soon nothing is left but a pile of leaves. All is silent and colorless. Then, just as things are at their coldest and most still, a breeze stirs. There is a warmth of hope. Things start to move and grow, and the cycle begins all over again.

I believe that anyone who does not find this fact utterly mysterious simply has not given much thought to it.

Yet none of this manages to quell the fear that nearly all of us feel before our own mortality. To say that death is a part of life is not much consolation. When I am dead, I will be gone. Does that mean my death is part of someone else’s life? What good does that do me?

We can ask, then, why we fear death. To my mind, the chief answer has to do with the body. For most of us most of the time, the body is everything. We occupy ourselves from waking to sleeping with its care and upkeep. We get upset at the slightest hint that there may be something wrong with it, and all the work we do is to sustain it.

In the end, this is useless. At best you will be able to keep your body going for a few extra years. Even if you do, you have no guarantee that these years will be pleasant or free from pain.

In short, we think we are our bodies, but ultimately our bodies do not amount to very much. Present-day society dislikes this fact and pushes aside any reminders of it. A few generations ago, people died in their beds at home (if they were lucky); the body was washed and waked in the house. Then people began to turn these duties over to the undertakers, and wakes were held in funeral homes. Today even this custom is vanishing, and it is becoming more common to dispose of the body privately and have a memorial service focusing on the bright side of the person’s life (with a cheer that always feels a bit artificial).

Nonetheless, there is no escaping the gloomy facts of death. The art of earlier centuries shoved them into people’s faces, with the medieval danse macabre and skulls and bones carved into gravestones. Bristol cathedral in England has a stone effigy of a bishop carved in the form of a half-rotten corpse.

Were the people in those times just more pessimistic than we are, or was there some reason for these dark motifs? The answer they would have given is, I believe, clear. You think you are your body, but your body will soon be gone, like it or not. So is that all you are?

Most humans across the course of time would say no. We know that we live on after death. Our concepts about the afterlife are dim and necessarily inaccurate: we can only imagine it through images based on earthly life, and yet the afterlife is, by definition, not earthly life, so it must be something different, and that something may be, probably is, beyond our current comprehension. There are all sorts of theories and accounts of the afterlife state, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the latest near-death experiences, but there are many things that these writings do not tell us.

Consider this: earthly life takes on manifold forms. Even in purely human terms, there is an endless number of things you can do, suffer, and become. It would stand to reason that the afterlife would be like this—perhaps more so. Hence it may be that some people, for reasons not entirely clear to us, go on to existences in other realms and dimensions, while others are born again on earth. Some shamans say that the soul consists of several parts and that these parts split up after death and go their own ways. But we have no day-to-day awareness of these parts that may survive and cannot even find them in ourselves.

We also fear death because it is the inversion of all earthly values. What is valuable on earth is not so in the eyes of death: what may survive the trauma of death is nothing that is valued or can even be seen on earth. This is an uncomfortable fact if your whole attention is focused on the world. Will you be a Democrat or a Republican after you are dead? Will you still like ice cream? One can only laugh at such questions.

Death tells us, then, that we are not our physical bodies. Nor are we our social identities or even our self-concepts as “good people.” So, then, who or what are we? Setting all perishable things aside, we do not know the most basic and important fact about ourselves. As A Course in Miracles says:

“I do not know the thing I am and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.”

Yet, as the Course adds, “In this learning is salvation born.”

Richard Smoley

 


Spirit Life in Cemeteries

Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Shahar, Charles"Spirit Life in Cemeteries" Quest 107:1, pg 36-38

By Charles Shahar

Charles Shahar.Cemeteries can be very vibrationally active or quiet, depending on a number of factors. Many burial sites have been chosen because they are high-energy environments. Located at the intersections of energy currents that result in a strong magnetism in the air, such settings have attracted disincarnate entities of all types. The veil or boundary between the grosser material sphere and the spirit world is thinner here, representing a kind of twilight zone, where the two dimensions can interact more directly. Cemeteries can therefore function as gateways to ethereal realms—although not necessarily the type you might want to connect to.

Ancient roads upon which funeral processions traversed were built to follow lines of energy (or ley lines) that converged upon graveyards, and were actually called “death roads.” According to renowned earth-mysteries author Paul Devereux, fragments of these roads have survived till this day in Western Europe, and are noteworthy for their straightness (Devereux, Earth Mysteries, 106). In medieval Holland, it was illegal to carry a corpse to burial in anything but a straight line (Devereux, Re-Visioning, 108). People would avoid crossing or walking along these roads, because the chances of meeting a ghost was considered to be high. The straightness was thought to encourage the spirit to make a beeline to the cemetery without deviating beyond its predetermined route.

From my own experience, older, smaller cemeteries are usually more likely to attract disincarnate entities. I find cemeteries that are at least 150 years old are often more busy with such activities than those that have been established relatively recently. Graveyards in disrepair, especially abandoned ones, often attract more entities than those that are vigorously maintained and manicured. Spirits generally do not like human activity, and will avoid any cemetery that is busy with workers. I also find spirits are more inclined to gather in cemeteries where there are plenty of trees rather than in those that occupy open ground. The presence of oak trees, particularly if they are gnarled and devoid of leaves, or have branches low to the ground, is also conducive for spirits to congregate.

Disincarnate entities are generally more active at night than during the day, particularly after midnight. Sunlight is usually too harsh for them to tolerate. On the other hand, there are entities who hang around during the day as well, and some do so for nefarious reasons. There are more spirits present on a heavily cloudy day than when the sun is blaring outside. They also like stormy or blustery days, when dark and foreboding clouds dominate the sky and blot out the sun. Some tend to be attracted to nights when there is a full moon or a new moon; others prefer the appearance of a very thin crescent, known as “Shiva’s moon.”

There are certain times of the year when the veil between our world and that of the twilight world becomes particularly thin, such as on Halloween night. One might think of Halloween as simply a children’s time for gaining treats and getting scared, but try meditating during the night of Halloween at a cemetery and see what types of energies you attract.

Spirit activity at cemeteries is quite intense at the winter and summer solstices, as well as the spring and autumn equinoxes. Members of pagan communities know this and generally time their most auspicious gatherings to coincide with these events. Fall is a time of transformation, and it is also the most active season for spirit activity.

What kinds of incorporeal entities hang around cemeteries? Among the most abundant are etheric wraiths. These are simply the discarded etheric shells of the deceased, which linger around the physical body and disintegrate along with it. They are sometimes visible as patchy mists that hover above grave sites, mostly around those of the recently departed. Even people who are only mildly sensitive can occasionally spot these wispy forms, but observers need to be alert and knowledgeable enough to know what they are looking at. Theosophist C.W. Leadbeater remarks that these etheric cast-offs are behind many of the commonly told stories of graveyard apparitions (Leadbeater, 53).

Other entities that hang around cemeteries are earthbound souls. Some are so attached to earthly life that they find it hard to disengage from it. Family members who come to mourn repeatedly pull these spirits back to the earthly sphere. They are compelled to linger near their loved ones, particularly at the site, where grieving is most intense. This category of earthbound specters is usually benign. They are rarely visible unless the astral form is so dense that it appears to people with a modicum of clairvoyant vision as a vague figure of the former corporeal self.

Some of the newly deceased will not initially leave the proximity of their physical bodies, fearing that if they stray too far, their connection to them will be severed. They will linger at the mortuary, attend their own funeral ceremony (I have often felt their presence), and will follow the funeral procession to the site where their body is interred. Most often they will not stay around the body after the burial takes place, although some will stay for much longer. In extreme cases, they may even try to enter the corpse in an effort to reanimate it. This is rare and involves an intense attachment to the physical form, or at the very least a confusion regarding one’s condition. Some souls refuse to recognize the finality of the rupture with their bodies.

There are also dark or malevolent entities that frequent cemeteries, including those that feed off the emotions of mourners who come repeatedly to the burial site. By entering the vulnerable auras of the distraught, these lower astral beings aggravate their suffering further, greedily feeding off it by siphoning life energy from their victims. There are also ghoulish spirits who are attracted to physical decay and decomposition. They resemble dark shadows of grotesque proportions. The smell of death attracts them, and they often linger at the gravesites of the recently buried.

The issue of burial haunting is one reason cremation is highly recommended by most spiritualists—and is also practiced by major faiths such as Hinduism, where it is done to assist the disembodied soul to move on. Occultists Harriette and Homer Curtiss suggest:

The recently deceased is often strongly, even morbidly attached to the discarded physical body for some time, hence haunts its burial place. But it is thus held only as a result of thought or desire, the desire to see what becomes of the former undergarment it wore while on earth. Cremation is therefore always desirable, not only because [it is] more sanitary and less revolting to think of, but because it consumes the physical magnetism and this releases the deceased at once from that source of attraction to the physical world (Curtiss, 65–66).

There are certain rules of etiquette that one should follow when visiting cemeteries. Always visit with an attitude of respect, whether in the day or at night. Never play loud music in a car when driving through the grounds. Avoid speaking with a loud voice, making loud jokes, laughing loudly, or otherwise behaving boisterously. All such actions are annoying for the entities who hang around cemeteries. You will attract their attention—and not in a good way.

I recommend treading carefully when walking through cemetery plots. If you must step on the graves themselves, tread lightly and with respect, even saying a little prayer as you walk through. Do not deface or disturb the site in any way, say by knocking over or displacing the headstones or the flowers and offerings that people have left there. This may all seem like common sense, but an immature or thoughtless person can easily deviate from conscious actions.

What can happen if you offend the spirits at a cemetery? There are a few possible responses, representing varying degrees of harshness. The first is that they may infiltrate your subconscious mind. They may strike you with a sudden fear, making you feel nervous and uncomfortable until you leave. They may distract your mind to the point where you might trip as you walk. The severity of such “accidents” will depend on the offense that you have caused. They may also follow you home and cause a bit of mischief. But these are all relatively rare occurrences, because most people know to approach cemeteries with a respectful attitude.

It is best to be tuned into the energy of a cemetery. If you feel strange when visiting a graveyard, it’s likely because the site is host to a multitude of spirit beings. For instance, you may experience goose bumps or a slight chill. If you feel a bit nauseous or queasy, this may be a warning sign that you have entered a cemetery frequented by powerful and possibly malevolent entities. They may not want to be disturbed and will guard their territory by vibing you. If you are sensitive, you will feel such vibes immediately.

I remember once driving on a photography outing to an old and decrepit cemetery about 100 miles from where I live. I snuck into the graveyard that Sunday afternoon by climbing up a padlocked fence. As soon as I touched the ground on the other side, I experienced a sinking feeling in my abdomen. As I walked through the cemetery, a sensation of dread overcame me. I realized that I was not welcomed there, and that the guardian spirits of the place were sending me strong signals to depart. I quickly climbed back up the fence and felt queasy until I got into my car. They had followed me a little way past the cemetery grounds.

I never returned to that graveyard, and I later understood that if I had stayed, these vibes would have gotten under my auric skin and perhaps caused difficulties for me later. In this case, scaling a fence and trespassing on the premises demonstrated a profound lack of respect for the sanctity of the grounds and for the beings that frequent it. These types of guardian entities are highly territorial and do not suffer intrusions lightly.

Guardian spirits can often be found in places such as old cemeteries, churches, monuments, old battlefields, and ancient temple ruins, where they hold vigil and do their best to discourage intrusions by unwanted visitors (Ashcroft-Nowicki and Brennan, 164–65). The mistake I made was not to ask permission from these beings before trespassing onto their grounds. If my request had been genuine and done with humility, they might have offered their permission, and I would have had a different experience. All it would have taken would be a brief meditation in which I could have raised my vibration before communicating with them.

I do not recommend that children play in cemeteries. They may be vulnerable to encroachments, and unwelcome guests may attach themselves to their astral fields. I am also leery of houses built at the edge of cemetery grounds, which are vulnerable to unwelcome visitations as well. Ancestral burial plots that are located near a house that has been passed on for generations may be particularly attractive places for earthbound spirits to linger. Even though their presence is generally benign, their souls’ progress is delayed by their worldly attachments.

For people who live next door to a cemetery, occult scholar John Michael Greer suggests planting a row of hawthorn hedges to separate the graveyard from the property and cultivating protective plants in the garden (Greer, 76). According to folklore, hawthorn hedges are considered to be magically (energetically) protective. Certain herbs and shrubs can be planted around the home—such as coriander, fennel, rosemary, and mullein—that repel unwanted negative energies (Struthers, 124). I have never experimented with such plants, but I suspect they work, because they are good conductors of etheric energy and respond well to the projected thoughts of people who use them for such purposes.

One would be mistaken to think of cemeteries as spiritual havens. Although they may be tranquil in their physical aspects, there may be all kinds of unpleasant shadowy creatures dominating their astral environment, particularly at night.


Sources

Ashcroft-Nowicki, Dolores, and J.H. Brennan. Magical Use of Thought Forms: A Proven System of Mental and Spiritual Empowerment. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2002.

Curtiss, Harriette A., and Homer F. Curtiss. Realms of the Living Dead: A Brief Description of Life after Death. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1917.

Devereux, Paul. Earth Mysteries. London: Judy Piatkus Ltd., 1999.

———. Re-Visioning the Earth: A Guide to Opening the Healing Channels Between Mind and Nature. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Greer, John Michael. Monsters: An Investigator’s Guide to Magical Beings. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2011.

Leadbeater, C.W. The Astral Plane: Its Scenery, Inhabitants, and Phenomena. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1905.

Struthers, Jane. Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Country Wisdom. London: Ebury Press, 2009.

Charles Shahar is a clinical psychologist by training and a social researcher by profession. He has lived in India, where he studied Vedanta philosophy. He has also taught yoga and meditation for seventeen years to diverse populations, particularly health-care professionals and patients.

 

 


An Energetic Journey of the Soul

Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Holmes Scherini, Desiree"An Energetic Journey of the Soul" Quest 107:1, pg 12

By Desiree Holmes Scherini

Desiree Holmes Scherini.One’s views on death, dying, and the afterlife generally depend on what one is taught  by religion, culture, and family. Some maintain their beliefs and viewpoint unchanged throughout life. Some, like me, find new answers through learning and exposure to events that challenge the status quo. Over my lifetime, my thoughts and beliefs about death have matured, as I have.

When I was a child, raised in a Catholic family, my naïve eyes would gaze at the effigy of Jesus on the cross, wounded and bleeding, limp with approaching death. This image of death carried the message of suffering and pain. Despite the resurrection that was supposed to be the reward (which I found difficult to understand), this image is what stood out in my mind. Death was a scary thing. I was taught that if I was bad, I would go to hell, and if I was good, I would go to heaven. If I was just a bit bad, I would wait in purgatory for an undefined amount of time to find out my final destination. That’s what happened when you die. I lived in fear that I would end up in hell, because so many things were sins!

By the time I was a young teen, I began to question the veracity of this doctrine. By the time I was eighteen, I decided it was too late for me: I was going to hell anyway, so I might as well go for broke.

Something changed in my college days. I began to understand that this life was a temporary state and came to believe that there would be more to come. Once I let go of the religious education I’d had, I began to see the light differently—believing that there was likely rebirth, but wondering too. Until years later, when my three-year-old daughter said, “Mommy, I love you. My old Mommy with the black hair was mean. She took me to the bad doctor.” She was too young to have made this up, and had never been exposed to a story like that. I felt I had my proof. I assured her that I was happy now that I was her mother too.

With later learning through transpersonal hypnotherapy training, I found that up until the age of five or so, children are still naturally open to their past lives, and I was further assured of my belief that death is a beginning as well as an end.

Having this knowledge provides me with a great sense of security. Although I don’t desire death, I don’t fear it either. The teachings of the Theosophical Society reinforce a sense of a greater purpose—a sense that life is not just here and now, in these few years of human time. Life is an energetic journey of the soul that is timeless. Existence never ceases; it simply transforms.

My sister died of cancer a few years ago. I sat in the room with her that day, after her body stopped, her warmth and color slowly fading. I felt a peacefulness and gratitude to be alone there with her as her energy transformed, unseen to me. It was an unusual gift to experience. I did not feel sadness, no tears, just a peaceful communion with her energy in a sun-dappled room. Since then, although I’ve been sad that her human self has left, I have never felt she is gone.

I had a dream of my sister some months later. She was healthy and happy and was dressed in a blue ball gown, on her way to a party. I couldn’t help believing that this was her way of telling me the state of her spirit, of reassuring me that all was well with her now.

The cycle of life is there for anyone who looks. From the seed to the fruit to the seed again. Water to cloud to rain. It’s even in man-made structures: buildings are erected, they decay with time and are demolished, and new buildings are raised.

Death is defined as “the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism” and soul as “the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.” This body may die, but we do not. There is much yet to experience on our way to the One.


Certified clinical hypnotherapist and neurolinguistics programming life coach Desiree Holmes Scherini, CH.t., N.L.P.,  is the author of Journey to Joy: The Written Path. She is a wellness teacher on the Transformation TV online platform. Her website is www.intuitivejourneywithdesiree.com, and she can be found on her podcast “Intuitive Journey with Desiree” as well.


Suicide and the Ageless Wisdom

Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: LeFevour, Amber"Suicide and the Ageless Wisdom" Quest 107:1, pg 32-35

By Amber LeFevour

Amber LeFevourThe increase of celebrity suicides within the last year shines a light on an epidemic that many people find too difficult to face. The national rate of suicide in the U.S. has been rising steadily over the past ten years. Statistics for 2016 noted that suicide accounted for 13.42 deaths per 100,000 individuals and was the tenth leading cause of death. Approximately 123 suicides occur per day, with white, middle-aged men as the leading demographic (https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/).

The mental-health industry works to destigmatize all mental illnesses, especially as more individuals and celebrities speak about their struggles. Suicide Prevention Awareness Week is observed in September, and October is Depression Awareness Month, as many individuals with depression notice a downward trend in their mood beginning in the fall and going into winter. The seasons certainly have an effect, especially in the northern regions, which have less sunlight to enable the body to synthesize vitamin D.

One step towards increasing awareness and acceptance has been to draw the focus away from mental illness and towards mental wellness. Expressions like “taking a mental-health day” have started to work their way into common language. An increased emphasis on the mind-body connection has also helped normalize the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health. Even individuals who would not typically seek out psychotherapy are finding other ways to improve their mental wellness. January kicks off the year with Mental Wellness Month, so it’s a great time to take note of how you’ve been feeling and make any changes that might be helpful.

Suicide is the ultimate fear of any mental-health professional, and every threat is treated seriously. Traditional psychotherapy focused on helping individuals solve their problems by identifying the problems’ roots. This is an excellent way to stay in business, but it does not offer immediate relief to most clients. If a person is contemplating suicide, talking about their difficulties in childhood is not likely to dissuade them within the span of a fifty-minute session.

The postmodern view of psychotherapy, starting around the 1970s and ’80s, began focusing more on the here and now. An individual needs to be able to tolerate distress before exploring the causes of the distress. Just within the last ten years, psychotherapy has begun to embrace the teachings of the Buddha, including mindfulness, which has made its way to the forefront of psychotherapy as a preferred intervention. The change has been slow in coming: although researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn has been studying mindfulness for forty years, the mental-health industry, like the medical field, was long afraid to embrace something “alternative.”

With the postmodern movement, mental-health practitioners have steered away from “fixing the problem” in favor of helping individuals create a life worth living. This philosophy recognizes that pain is a part of life for everyone and that how each person handles the circumstances in front of them determines the course of their life. Michael White and David Epston created Narrative Therapy in the 1980s to reflect this shift. A key tenet of the theory is: “The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.” A person’s ability to manage the problem and create a story around it determines the extent and severity of the problem itself. In psychotherapy, individuals are reminded that all thoughts and feelings are fleeting. One client in particular said to me, “You changed my whole perspective when you pointed out that no feeling lasts forever.”

This lesson is essential for any person considering suicide. However they might feel in this moment, it will change. They will smile again; they will laugh again. Clients will acknowledge this and immediately follow up with, “But the bad feelings are just going to come back again.” Absolutely. No feeling lasts forever, even the good ones.

One type of intervention comes from Dialectical Behavior Theory, created by Marsha Linehan. The technique, called “Ride the Wave,” encourages the individual to focus on the feeling in the moment. Notice the highs and the lows. Notice how it begins, how it increases, and how it recedes again. Dr. Linehan’s theory, which relies heavily on mindfulness, teaches individuals to slow down and notice the patterns of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Like meditation, the goal is for the individual to control their “feeling brain” so that their “thinking brain” can take control and make more informed choices.

Dr. Linehan also introduced the concept of radical acceptance to psychotherapy. This suggests that pain is pain; it is pain without acceptance of the pain that causes suffering. The relation to Buddhism can be seen again, as the Buddha provided a similar definition. Therapists help clients understand that they may not have created their situation and they may not like it, but they still have to change it. By recognizing the reality of the situation today, a person can turn inward in order to start living the life they want.

To emphasize this point, I can think of an example from my own experience as a psychotherapist. Two different individuals with severe medical illnesses had vastly different experiences based on their ability to accept and tolerate their pain and desires. In one case, the man was very upset about his illness and lashed out at everyone around him. His desire to not be ill led him to constantly seek out ways to alleviate his pain. His lack of acceptance created suffering for anyone around him, including his family, each of whom was dealing with their own struggles. The other man turned inward to make meaning of his pain, and sought out teachings on mindfulness to help him manage it. He accepted his illness by being open with others about his needs and seeking out assistance when necessary. While the pain continues, he is also able to enjoy his life and his family. Even though he struggles at times, overall he has created a life worth living.

In studying suicide prevention, many statistics analyze demographics, including age, race, gender, and mental-health issues. Spirituality has been studied as one possible protective factor, encouraging individuals to work towards something positive. Many religions tend to focus on the consequences of suicide and paint pictures of a fiery hell filled with torture. However, fear will only make a person work so hard, and for those in extreme distress or experiencing mental distress, it may not be enough to dissuade them anyway.

Recently some Christians have been changing their perspective and suggesting that suicide in fact is not a “mortal sin” and can be forgiven. The Catholic church has even expanded its teachings to say that an individual who is not in good mental health does not have the understanding of their actions, which is a necessary component of sin. While suicide leads to many consequences, especially for the loved ones left behind, no human can adequately judge or be certain what happens after death for the individual.

There are many theories about the after-death states for natural and unnatural deaths, with each religion giving its own interpretation. In any case, the individual practicing any faith has the responsibility to decide on their own what they truly believe. Theosophy offers several sources regarding suicide.

First, Mahatma Koot Hoomi, in a letter to A.O. Hume (Chin and Barker, 213–14), suggests that after death, the soul is able to sleep. In the case of suicide or a violent death, however, the dream may be more like a nightmare. A person who commits suicide may relive a specific moment during their lifetime over and over. Nevertheless, the doctrine of reincarnation, suggests that the soul is not stuck in this nightmare for eternity. Instead it is likely to stay in this place until it is able to work through the karma that led to these decisions, so that it may go on to enjoy its time in devachan before reincarnating. Furthermore, the karma incurred by the action will likely be worked out during the next lifetime. While we can’t escape our karma, there is no reason to believe that one negative decision made during a single lifetime will lead to an eternity of damnation.

H.P. Blavatsky expounds on the after-death states in an 1882 article in The Theosophist. An individual had written in, suggesting that a person who does not provide value to the world, and who in fact ends up causing harm through attempts to do good works, would provide more service through suicide. Blavatsky replies, “There is but one general law or rule for all suicides. But, it is just because ‘the afterstates’ vary ad-infinitum . . . the result will be in every case the necessity of living out the appointed period of sentient existence” (emphasis Blavatsky’s). Here she is suggesting that someone who commits suicide will not immediately move on to devachan, but instead will remain in the other bodies surrounding the soul, including the astral and mental. While the physical body may no longer be attached to the soul, the latter remains alive and active until the time at which it has predetermined to leave all bodies and return to devachan. In many ways, this echoes the statements made by K.H. Together, these statements suggest that the individual will remain working through the emotions tied to the suicide while waiting to leave the other, subtle, bodies behind as well. After that point, the individual will be able to enter the devachan that he has earned based on his lifetime on earth.

The Third Object of the Theosophical Society encourages study of the powers latent in humanity. When considering suicide, the study of after-death states seems like a fitting place to start. Raymond Moody Jr. began writing about near-death experiences (NDEs) in the 1970s, and the field has grown exponentially from there. The International Association for Near Death Studies was created in 1978 and remains active today, with local groups in many states and countries (https://www.iands.org/).

In his seminal book Life after Life (1975), Moody describes NDEs of individuals who had attempted suicide: “They report that the conflicts they had attempted suicide to escape were still present when they died, but with added complications. In their disembodied state they were unable to do anything about their problems, and they also had to view the unfortunate consequences which resulted from their acts” (Moody, 136).

A more thorough description of the after-death states of suicide is given by Theosophical lecturer Kurt Leland in his book The Unanswered Question (2002). During one of his dream states in which he was able to visit the other side, Leland was given the chance to speak with a former client who had suffered an accidental suicide. The client provided insights into the after-death effects of suicide:

Whenever anyone dies prematurely, especially by means of suicide . . . there’s an inquest . . . [a judge] looks over the facts of your dying and assigns you the task of identifying the exact point in your life when the troubles began. Then he locks you up in the state of consciousness you were in at that time until you find some other way of dealing with those troubles. Once you’ve found the solution you spend some time practicing the new way of dealing with them. Hopefully, when you go back in your next lifetime and confront the same set of conditions . . . you’ll be able to implement it and move on to other lessons. (Leland, 298) 

While Moody and Leland reinforce the basic concepts outlined by K.H. and Blavatsky, there is one notable difference in Leland’s description: K.H. indicated that the suicide would live out the moment of his downfall, whereas Leland describes reliving the moment that set the soul on the path towards that outcome.

Leland’s account sounds somewhat like the process of psychotherapy. Traditional psychotherapy, going back to Freud and Jung, tries to identify the root cause of a condition. Modern psychotherapy focuses on building the skills in this moment so that the individual will respond differently to any similar situation in the future. Additionally, the choices and actions are those of the client alone. The therapist cannot be present at all times to offer guidance or help the client use their skills; the client needs to be able to do so in the real world. In this way, psychotherapy can be seen as an analogue of the after-death states. Moody and Leland have described the afterlife review, which occurs for all individuals; this too has some similarities to psychotherapy.

The main difference between psychotherapy and Leland’s view is that a psychotherapist will never judge a clients for thoughts, feelings, or behavior, and will never prescribe consequences. The whole point of psychotherapy is to offer a nonjudgmental safe space where the client can explore issues that can’t be brought up in other situations. In fact, psychotherapists often struggle against clients’ fears about expressing suicidal thoughts: clients are often afraid that they will be sent to the psychiatric hospital if they admit to having fleeting thoughts of not wanting to live. Therapists work hard to reassure the clients that every feeling is acceptable and that not every feeling will result in a negative action. These feelings are more common than most people realize, and it reassures many individuals to realize that they are comparatively normal.

Leland’s client says that in his case, his soul decided to disconnect itself from the body because the path the client was taking was not beneficial to his spiritual evolution. For a person on earth struggling to understand suicide, this statement seems oddly comforting. Rather than implying that an individual is in so much pain and misery that they need to escape by any means necessary, the statement suggests that the Higher Self is still in charge and making decisions that are best for the soul, even if we on earth can’t understand it. In that sense, suicide doesn’t seem much different from any other illness or death. We can hardly know the plan set for our own souls, much less that of anyone else.

As a psychotherapist, I have had many clients who have contemplated suicide. I have seen that attitude, acceptance, and empathy determine a person’s level of resilience. I have met children and adults who have experienced trauma throughout their life, but who face each day with a determination to make things better. My goal is to help clients manage the pain of life before making the choice to end it, so they may truly escape the suffering they are enduring. Death remains a mystery for all of us, which we can only know when we get there. Until then, take care of your mental health and continue to build a life worth living.


Sources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Suicide Statistics,” accessed Sept. 14, 2018: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics.

Blavatsky, H.P. “Is Suicide a Crime?” The Theosophist 4, no. 2 (November 1882): 31–32.

Carey, Maggie, and Shona Russell. “Externalising: Commonly Asked Questions.” The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work 2 (2002): 76–84.

Chin, Vicente Hao, Jr., and A.T. Barker, eds. The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998.

De Purucker, Gottfried. What Death Really Is: Questions We All Ask. San Diego, Calif.: Point Loma             Publications, 1986.

Leland, Kurt. The Unanswered Question. Charlottesville, Va: Hampton Roads, 2002.

Linehan, Marsha M. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press, 1993.

Moody, Raymond, Jr. Life after Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon—Survival of Bodily Death. Marietta, Ga.: R. Bemis, 1975.

Amber LeFevour, M.S., L.M.F.T., is a practicing marriage and family therapist in Illinois, with a focus on working with attachment and trauma. She primarily works with children and families. She has been actively involved with the Theosophical Society for eight years and has given two lectures in the Living Theosophy series.


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